This post discusses work considerations and employment support for newcomers who have disabilities, whether unemployed or underemployed.

(For a discussion of the related topic of income support in Ontario available to refugee newcomers who have disabilities, see the website of the Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services, here and here.)

Barriers and challenges which newcomers with disabilities may face

“Disability” is defined by Statistics Canada as an “activity limitation or participation restriction associated with a physical or mental condition or health problem.”

Disabilities which newcomers may have can take many forms, both physical and mental. Some disabilities will affect employability much more than others. This article provides an overview only and does not consider the challenges and opportunities relating to specific disabilities.

The high variation of each newcomer’s education, work experience, skills, and mobility, combined with the very individualized nature of the disability, make it difficult to provide a comprehensive list of types of work to consider.

As difficult as it may be for any individual with a disability to find good employment in Canada, those who are also refugee newcomers often represent even more complicated situations, for reasons relating to factors such as psychological trauma, resettlement pressures, a lack of English language proficiency, and lower levels of education, training, and experience.

Issues of mental health can significantly impact a newcomer’s desire to work and even look for work. On the other hand, finding satisfying work can greatly improve a newcomer’s mental health. For a video aimed at private sponsors of refugee newcomers on the subject of mental health, see Refugees, Mental Health and Sponsorship, produced by the Refugee Sponsorship Training Program.

There is a U.S. website for trade school, college, and university programs, which includes a post on Great Jobs for People with Disabilities. While this may be worth a read by those in Canada, bear in mind that it is targeted at those with at least high school education, who are able to pursue a course of instruction over time, and in all likelihood can communicate well in English. It has no particular suggestions for refugee newcomers who are disabled or who have limited English.

Job carving

Job carving” is an employment strategy utilized by progressive employers. It involves analyzing and modifying the responsibilities and tasks of an existing position, in order to split them between two individuals. Although this can be done with any type of employment, in order to increase productivity and profitability, job carving is particularly useful in creating jobs for people with disabilities. As one example, the successful experience with job carving at VanCity, in British Columbia, is described on the website of WorkBC.

Employers of note

It makes sense for a newcomer with a disability to first look for work among all potential employers within a job sector of interest, ideally for which he or she has some skill and experience. However, regardless of anti-discrimination laws that are in effect, it may be a good idea to seek out employers known for their diversity hiring, including individuals with disabilities. See for example: Canada’s Best Diversity Employers (2018). See also the “champions” and case studies highlighted on the website of The Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN). A Google search related to employment and a newcomer’s particular disability might turn up some additional employer prospects.

Provincial government employment support

Each province has its own disability support program, which may consist of both income support and employment support.

Employment support offers help to individuals with disabilities to find and keep a job and to advance their careers. Income support is in the form of financial assistance provided each month to help with the costs of basic needs, like food, clothing, and shelter. Income support also includes benefits, like drug coverage and vision care, for clients and their eligible family members.

Here, we are talking about employment support. For details of the employment support offered in Ontario, see the website description of the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP).

To be eligible for employment support under the Ontario program, one must:

  • Be 16 years old or older;
  • Live in Ontario;
  • Be able to work in Canada;
  • Have a disability that is expected to last 1 year or more; and
  • Have a disability that makes it difficult to find or keep a job.

Employment support is not available to individuals in Ontario who are:

  • Eligible for or are receiving disability benefits from other public or private sources; or
  • Receiving assistance through Ontario Works.

ODSP employment support is offered through numerous program service providers. See this website to find a service provider in a particular city within Ontario. For additional information, see also the ODEN website.

Federal government employment support

From time to time, the Government of Canada issues calls for proposals from service providers under the Opportunities Fund for Persons with Disabilities program, which in the past, has had an annual budget of around $40 million. The program provides “financial support to community organizations that assist people with a permanent physical or mental disability that restricts their ability to perform daily activities. [Its] participants typically have significant detachment from the labour force and are ineligible for assistance under Employment Insurance employment benefits.” The funding may be used for on-the-job supports or for starting a small business. This program is for the general population, including but not specifically for newcomers. Financial support under the program may include:

  • funding for employment or self-employment training;
  • wage subsidy paid to an employer;
  • funding for adaptive equipment/tools;
  • tuition and books;
  • living expenses;
  • disability supports; and
  • dependent care and/or child care.

The Canadian government also offer a Disability Vocational Rehabilitation Program, but to qualify, applicants must have made Canada Pension Plan contributions for four of the previous six years, which makes it unlikely to be of value to refugee newcomers.

Programs and resources

There are very few employment programs specifically for newcomers with disabilities. An in-depth internet search turns up just one: the Learning Disabilities Association of Toronto District offers the First Steps to Successful Career program. Developed specifically for refugees, convention refugees, landed immigrants, and live-in caregivers, this free program offers advice on resume creation, interview strategies, networking, and computer and literacy skills.

That said, there are many programs and websites dedicated to assisting all people with disabilities in finding employment. There’s no reason why a newcomer couldn’t access programing such as:

A unique program has been established in London, Ontario: a neighbourhood grocery store called Old East Village Grocer, which is said to be the only social enterprise of its kind in Canada. The store is owned and operated by ATN Access for Persons with Disabilities, Inc. It serves as a training centre for clients who have significant workplace barriers due to disability, offering the chance to gain employment skills in a real-life job setting.

The Developing and Nurturing Independence (DANI) program, located in the GTA, is also based on the social enterprise model. DANI’s Supported Employment Program uses a person-centered model to create a job that suits the employee’s strengths and disability-related needs.

Job searches

A newcomer with disabilities might pursue any of the usual job search strategies and may be wise to do so in combination with an employment support service, which may be aware of organizations with current openings for those with disabilities.

However, these online matching databases, among others, may also be of interest:

  • Discover Ability Network, funded by the Government of Ontario and powered by Magnet, which connects people with disabilities directly to Ontario businesses; and
  • WORKink, which provides a dedicated space for inclusive employment postings by equity employers, including those related to disabilities (though not specifically for newcomers.)

The various job boards available for all individuals, including the Government of Canada JobBank and Indeed, offer filters for persons with disabilities. However, results displayed are often not appropriate, seemingly having been included only because the posting employer claims not to discriminate against individuals with disabilities.

Other search strategies that may be more productive for job-seekers with disabilities are networking (including through private sponsors of refugee newcomers) and job fairs, such as the following in the GTA:

Volunteering may also be a good option for gaining references and may possibly even lead to paid work opportunities.

Financial support for employers

Employers who are keen to hire newcomers with disabilities can access programs and supports offered by their provincial governments. In many cases, this takes the form of government funding for making the workplace accessible. The National Educational Association of Disabled Students has a national directory of such programs on its website.

Entrepreneurial opportunities

As an alternative to paid employment, a newcomer with disability may wish to start his or her own entrepreneurial endeavour, perhaps from home. In the GTA, JobSkills is one organization that offers a workshop program on Self-Employment for Persons with Disabilities, although this program is not designed for newcomers specifically.

The Canadian Centre on Disability Studies has a handbook entitled: Best Practices in the Home-Based Employment of People with Disabilities. While this document is focussed on home-based telework arrangements with an employer and while communications technology has advanced considerably since its publication in 2002, many of the issues and strategies discussed are applicable to a home-based business today.

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